SIX intense hours failed to find either a smoking gun or a knight in shining armour. Without apology, a composed Tony Blair restated his unswervable belief that his was a just war well fought.

Perhaps the only new aspect to emerge from yesterday’s proceedings was that he had saved the world from the terrifying prospect of an Iraq led by Saddam Hussein competing with its hated neighbour Iran in a nuclear race to equip disparate bands of terrorists.

Yet the fundamental flaw remained: no matter how hard Coalition forces searched, Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction with which to threaten anyone.

Yesterday was fascinating. The mind of a Prime Minister was opened up for all to see live on the internet. So intense and so all-consuming were the foreign policy debates going on inside it during 2002 and 2003, it is a wonder that there was any spare capacity for anything as mundane as running a country or reforming the NHS.

That mind had to make a decision of boggling complexity. The intricacies of the “revival argument” in international law jostled with the “limited and patchy” intelligence that seemed to him to draw a picture of immediate danger.

On one shoulder, the French and Russians were threatening the collapse of the US to prevent international consensus; on the other, the Americans, still sore after 9/11, had 200,000 troops’ itchy fingers on triggers.

“This isn’t about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception, it’s a decision,” he said.

“And the decision I had to take was, given Saddam’s history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over one million people whose deaths he had caused, given ten years of breaking UN resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons programmes or is that a risk that it would be irresponsible to take?”

Yesterday, The Northern Echo posed the questions that we felt Mr Blair needed to address about how he came to make that most difficult of decisions. This is how he responded:

WAS the aim of the war to destroy Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, or to change the regime in Iraq?

MR Blair started by explaining how 9/11 had radically changed his world view. That day, terrorists killed 3,000 New Yorkers. Inspired by religious fanaticism, he said, they could have killed 30,000. It was clear, therefore, that any state that could assist them was now a threat.

“There are many regimes you would like to see the back of – Mugabe in Zimbabwe or the Burmese government – but you can’t go through and remove them,” he said. “The basis is having a security threat and that was intimately connected with the nature of the regime.”

Iraq’s regime, with its violent history and continued defiance of UN weapons inspectors, stood out. It was quite clear to Mr Blair that if the best way of disarming Iraq was to disable Saddam, then so be it: the dictator must be swept away along with his weapons.

The difference between disarmament and regime change was paper thin.

WHEN did you decide British troops would invade Iraq?

ONE of the most damaging allegations is that Mr Blair “signed in blood” a deal with George Bush in April 2002 – nearly a year before the invasion – that British troops would take part in military action. The contentious one-on-one meeting took place at Mr Bush’s Texan ranch at Crawford.

“There was nothing decided. The only commitment I gave was a commitment to deal with Saddam,” he said. “That was a public commitment.

We were agreed that we have to confront this issue.”

The inquiry team seemed content with this answer, although Mr Blair also told them that the “Options paper” for confronting this issue contained only three ways forward.

Firstly, “super sanctions”, but Mr Blair said that the UN resolution setting them up was not watertight. Secondly, further weapons inspections, but Mr Blair said Saddam’s record of cooperation was so poor, that even with 250,000 troops camped on his doorstep, that he doubted their success.

The third option was military action.

So although nothing was decided at Crawford, the only decision to take was when the military action started.

WAS the intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction “sexed-up”

FOR a man not known for his mastery of detail, Mr Blair was in masterful form yesterday.

He appeared on top of his brief, taking the inquiry team along avenues it had not imagined.

However, on the most contentious of accusations about the “45-minute” claim, he responded with a vague, unconvincing assertion.

The claim was in the intelligence dossier released on September 24, 2002 – “a dull and cautious” document, according to Mr Blair. For such a drab publication, it certainly made waves. The Northern Echo, for one, led its front page with the words: “Just 45 minutes for Iraq to strike”. It turned out that the newspapers had all misinterpreted the intelligence which referred to chemical battlefield weapons – ie: you had to invade Iraq before the weapons became a threat – and not long-range weapons which could kill innocent civilians within a radius of 1,000 or more miles.

Mr Blair chose not to challenge this misinterpretation because, he said, it was too minor to bother with. He said the 45-minute claim only became important after the BBC’s report about the Government sexing up the intelligence.

Mr Blair said: “It would have been better to have corrected it in the light of the significance it later took on. It’s taken on far greater significance than it did at the time.” This is not correct. It was significant enough to lead most national newspapers. It was scary enough to make most people think Saddam posed a real and pressing threat. It turned out to be untrue in every respect, and it is the single reason people are so cynical about the war.

Mr Blair said yesterday that he was convinced by the intelligence in the September dossier. “I did believe it, and quite frankly, I did believe it beyond doubt,” he said. People can accept that because of Saddam’s cunning, the intelligence was not all it should have been. People cannot accept the feeling that they were spun into war.

WHY didn’t you take a broader view of all legal advice, much of which said the war would be illegal?

YESTERDAY’S long debate only convinced Mr Blair that Resolution 1441 gave him the armoury he needed to conduct the war, and in many ways he was right. International law is as difficult to pin down as a flock of starlings in flight. It shifts all the time – its shape whatever the most powerful protagonists want it to be.

His interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone were also arguably illegal in not having a specific UN resolution to authorise military force, but Mr Blair is unlikely to be prosecuted as a war criminal for saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of Muslims who were threatened by Slobodan Milosevic.

If Iraq had yielded a large tub of anthrax with “London” marked on it, the Iraq war would have been regarded as legal. It didn’t, leaving people free to question its legality.

DID you do enough to prepare for the aftermath of the invasion?

THE inquiry failed to discover from Mr Blair whether British troops could have been better prepared, but he admitted that pre-invasion planning could have been better.

He said planning had concentrated on avoiding a humanitarian crisis, on tackling oil well fires and on dealing with weapons of mass destruction.

“We planned for certain eventualities... and then found a difficult set of realities,” he said.

“People did not think al-Qaida and Iran would end up playing the role they did. It was the entrance of the external elements that very nearly caused this mission to fail.”

It must say something about British intelligence that it failed to predict that terrorists would wish to benefit from chaos on their doorstep.

MR Blair’s arguments were usually robust and he sounded very plausible – how his successor Gordon Brown would have floundered in similar circumstances we shall thankfully never know.

Perhaps Mr Blair was too robust: an acknowledgement of respect to those who have lost loved ones in the conflict would not have been misplaced.

Disappointingly, despite the intense spotlight, Mr Blair received only a light grilling from the Iraq Inquiry. His assuredness was hardly troubled, his certainties were unrocked.

Because he went largely untested, if you trusted his judgement before, you will trust it now; if you had nagging doubts before, they will nag you still.